A Dancer Is Suing Her School District For Excluding Her Because She Was "Too Dark"

February 10, 2019

Camille Sturdivant, a former member of the Blue Valley Northwest High School dance team is suing the school district, alleging that she was barred from performing in a dance because her skin was “too dark.”

The suit
states that during Sturdivant’s senior year, the Dazzlers’ choreographer, Kevin Murakami, would not allow her to perform in a contemporary dance because he said her skin would clash with the costumes, and that she would steal focus from the other dancers because of her skin color.

When Sturdivant and her parents complained to the school’s principal, Amy Pressly, they were told that the dance team coach, Carley Fine, was free to choose whoever she wanted for the dance.

The lawsuit also says that last May, after Sturdivant found out that she made the dance team at the University of Missouri, she borrowed Fine’s phone to cue up music for a dance. She discovered a text conversation between Fine and Murakami, where Fine implied that Sturdivant had only made the team because she was black, and that it “hurt her stomach” to think of Sturdivant being on the team.

Fine was fired the next day, and was barred from coming on school property or having contact with members of the Dazzlers. However, the lawsuit claims that Fine did return to the school, and participate in team dinners and gatherings with the Dazzlers that Sturdivant was excluded from, including a banquet that had been officially canceled.

After Fine’s firing, dance team members (excluding Sturdivant and the only other black dancer on the team) wore ribbons on their uniforms with the initials “CF” in support of the coach.

The school district has denied that Sturdivant’s civil rights were violated, claiming that they were not aware of Murakami’s statement, and that they were not responsible for what happened during non-school events, such as the team dinners.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for six counts including discrimination and failure to adequately train Pressly and Fine.

But whether or not she wins, Sturdivant’s suit is making an impact: 435 Magazine reports that last month, the dance program at BVNHS was suspended “because the district determined that the Blue Valley Northwest Dazzler Dance Program has not met district expectations. The District suspended the program while efforts are being made to rebuild it into a positive, healthy experience for our students.” The school district has also implemented bias training for administrators and coaches, and changed its hiring practices for coaches.